Wednesday night’s USL Championship match between Phoenix Rising FC and San Diego Loyal SC came to an end for all the wrong reasons.
Moments before the halftime whistle, San Diego’s Collin Martin — an openly gay player — was allegedly called a homophobic slur by Phoenix Rising forward Junior Flemmings.
Loyal SC manager Landon Donovan then gave PRFC manager Rick Schantz an ultimatum of subbing the Jamaican off the field or the U.S. Men’s National Team legend would elect to have his team forfeit and walk off the pitch.
“I also then went to their coach and said ‘I just want to be really clear on this, we’ve had a really hard week,’” Donovan said in a statement after the game. “He and I talked about it before the game about how much we’ve been through.
“And I just said if you don’t pull the player off the field, if you don’t sub him off, our players are not going to play because we have to make a stand. So either you do it or else we’re going to have to do it. And he said ‘I’m not going to sub him off the field.’ I said OK, that’s fair. That’s your choice. And then our guys to their immense credit said we’re not going to stand for this.”
“We are aware of the alleged use of a homophobic slur in tonight’s match between San Diego Loyal SC and Phoenix Rising FC,” the league said in a statement.
“Foul and abusive language of any type has absolutely no place in our society and will not be tolerated in USL matches. An investigation is currently underway to determine the facts surrounding the incident and more information will be provided as soon as it is available.”
Flemmings vehemently denies claims that he called San Diego’s Collin Martin a homophobic slur.
But the decision shouldn’t come as a surprise from Donovan.
Last week, Omar Ontiveros — who has since been released by LA Galaxy II — called San Diego midfielder Elijah Martin a racial slur in the second half of a 1-1 draw.
Following the match, Loyal SC announced that the club would not be accepting the point it had earned and would have elected to forfeit and walk off the pitch should the coaching staff had been made aware of the racial slur prior to after the final whistle.
San Diego also made the statement that the club would not stand for racism or homophobia and that Loyal SC would forfeit and walk off the pitch should it happen again.
Phoenix was trailing San Diego 3-1 at the time of the incident that saw Donovan come out onto the pitch, have a conversation with the referee and Rising FC manager Rick Schantz, and then eventually receive a red card for coming out onto the pitch before walking off.
The two sides had planned on stopping the game in the 71st minute (the minute Loyal SC’s Elijah Martin was the victim of a racial slur last week) to hold up a banner that read “I will speak. I will act.”
The match will be San Diego’s last of its inaugural season, as Loyal SC required a win plus help elsewhere in order to qualify for Group B’s final playoff spot.
“They were very clear in that moment that they were giving up all hopes of making the playoffs even though they were beating one of the best teams in the league handily,” Donovan said.
“But they said it doesn’t matter, there are things more important in life and we have to stick up for what we believe in. So they made the decision to walk off.”